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To start with, here is the context of the question. I recently heared about this (in fact, rather old - about 4 months ago) story: Mark Zuckerberg reportedly pressured a top Facebook VR exec to drop his public support of Trump in favor of another candidate. In short - there are some claims that Facebook is very politically solid internally, and this story is an example of the company getting rid of politically-another employees. Facebook, on the other hand, declines all claims, so the strict truth is unknown.

This story and (was really impressed, even a book about it: The History of the Future) rumors about whole Facebook moderation units, guided me to the question.

Facebook is now (especially in the western world and especially in U.S.) is much more than a company - in fact it more likes a social service. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you are about 100% registered in Facebook if you live in the U.S.

So, we have a company maintaining people's social activities for a lot of people. And if you don't like some media source news (you think, that it is opinion-based, or something else, that doesn't matter), you may watch/read another source - you have the choice. But if Facebook become (already become/can become/may potentially become - choose what you want, question is NOT about it) in a way you don't like - you just cannot make another choice.

Is it a freedom restriction, or not? If it is, why doesn't the U.S. government restrict it to be more neutral (the U.S. Army is a very good example, I think - it is highly neutral to inner U.S. politics).

According to answers - question is not about an abstract meaning of censorship and corporation rights (every media has its media politics). Question is about a potential censorship in, in fact, a monopoly corporation which provides social activities for nearly all of the U.S. population.

  • Downvoters, please, leave your comments, share your arguments, you are welcome. Let me note, that there are NO claims about facebook being/not being non-neutral in question.) Emotions are welcome to stay on your side of the screen. – user2501323 Feb 26 at 14:39
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    It's unclear exactly what you are asking, but I'm going to hold off VTC to see if you can edit the question. Are you aksing why doesn't the U.S. government place restrictions on Facebook? Are you asking is what Facebook does a restriction of freedom somehow? – RWW Feb 26 at 14:53
  • The first - why not restricting. – user2501323 Feb 26 at 14:54
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    Then @Philipp's answer is correct. The First Amendment prevents the government from restricting the activities of private companies that way. – RWW Feb 26 at 14:56
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    Re "Correct me, if I'm mistaking, but you are about 100% registered in Facebook if you live in US.": that's incorrect. In early 2018 about 2/3 of Americans were Facebook users. – agc Feb 26 at 18:17
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Okay, this requires a lot to unpack, but I'm going to try here. For the purposes of this discussion, I'll use two "controversial" statements one that will be agreeable to most US society including Facebook ("I like Fireworks on the Fourth of July") and one which is not ("Nickleback is the greatest band ever"). These are meant to avoid actually really nasty political issues, but still provide examples of speech that is largely agreeable and largely disagreeable and both are neutral to each other (You can agree with both statements, or disagree with one but agree with another, or agree with neither statement, or have a combination of no opinion on either statement).

The First Amendment and Business and Employers

So the First Amendment (and the Constitution in General) restrict the government, not the citizens. The First Amendment is generally seen as protecting the Freedom of Speech, but it traditionally protects Five Core aspects: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religious Worship, Freedom of Association, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of the Press.

The government is permitted to limit speech only in ways that are content neutral. So if the government says "You can't burn ads for the big FoJ Fireworks show because it is unpatriotic" this would be unfair to the few people who dislike fireworks shows as a form of protest and to noted fan of Nickleback, Wade Wilson, who don't have similar protections for their posters advertising the Nickleback concert. However, if the government makes a law that says "You can't burn ads in protest because there's a bad drought and it might cause a huge wildfire" then it says nothing about the content of the product being advertised, and thus is a reasonable restriction of a form of Protest.

Private people and businesses are not restrained by this restriction and thus a fireworks store does not need to hire someone who hates fireworks and Wade Wilson can't be restricted from forming a Nickleback Fan Club with his good buddy Ryan Reynolds. Even the U.S. Government can restrict employees from certain political speech (hence why the Army, which is a Government Employer can restrict what the grunts say about certain Political matters... the Hatch Act is pretty much a law that bars those employed by the government from certain political activities, where as Facebook can restrict employees from expressing certain ideals it does not enjoy.).

So what service is Facebook?

This is the $64,000 dollar question. At present Facebook wants to be regulated like a utility provider (like a phone company, an internet provider, a power company, ect.) they also want to be able to retain certain content they don't want to associate with (like Anti-Fireworks messages or Pro-Nickleback Messages). These two product entities are mutually exclusive in this regard.

A utility provider cannot engage in view point discrimination because they have too much power over peoples lives. Suppose Pro-Fireworks lovers want the power company to ensure the best shows by cutting all power to the city on the Fourth of July or Anti-Nicklebackers want the company to cut power to the building that houses their Fan Club. These negatively impact people in various ways... Anti-Fireworkers might want to play video games with their buds and Pro-Nicklebackers might lose their rented space in the building, because the other tenants want their power turned on. To say nothing about a hospital patient who needs life saving surgery during the power outage. In order to prevent the unpopular opinions of customers from affecting such vital services, the companies cannot be sued because... let's say Mr. Wilson was trying to convince Mr. Reynolds to kill all Anti-Nicklebackers (Mr. Wilson isn't right in the head, after all)... or because doctors need electricity in the ER at all times. Facebook wants to be classified as a utility as this will immunize it from defamation lawsuits (for example, I, just moments ago said that Mr. Wilson is a crazy person with out evidence to justify my claim... he could be completely sane with 4 out of 5 doctors agreeing... which means I could be sued for slandering his good name (I didn't slander him. I libeled him. Slander is spoken word). However he won't sue me because I make no money, and cannot sue Stack Exchange because they are just a utility service provider that I used to express my opinion).

However, if Stack Exchange takes steps to remove my above libelous statement, then it is not a utility service, but a publishing service (Like News Papers, Movies, Fictional Books), which means that they lose the immunity to libelous suits by third party users... as well as any images a share, real people who I made false statements about (Maybe Mr. Reynolds), Fictional Characters I didn't properly source (Like Mr. Wilson's fictional status as being owned by Marvel Entertainment, which I do not own, and his creator was Rob Leifeld, who I am thankfully not) or used in violation of copyright (Fair Use, suck it Deadpool!). Facebook similarly does not want to be a Publishing Service, not because it wants to provide service for all, but because being classified as a publishing service means it's now opened up a floodgate of lawsuits onto itself... sure, it could fight most, but the sheer amount of stuff on Facebook that is actionable is damaging enough that it cannot fight every... some will hit it and they will hit hard.

So in effect, they kinda haven't been classified as either for what protections and rights they can claim, so they take the best of both worlds... which only invites regulatory authorities to look at the rule book and wonder if they can regulate social media as a third unique class of services.

Is Facebook a Monopoly (which is illegal in the United States)?

No. Since we're talking about unpopular opinions, you can always use MySpace, right? Of course, Facebook isn't the only Social Media service in town... It's just the one all the cool kids you want to interact with use at this moment. It's not stopping you from creating your own social media site... with Blackjack... and Hookers (Fair use, Bender!). And it's not the most popular social media application the world over. Russians love Livejournal (dunno why) and the Japanese love Twitter (mostly because 148 characters in Japanese is a good five paragraph essay in English, in terms of information it conveys).

However, just because Facebook has commentators, doesn't mean it's not a Trust... basically, Facebook and several other social media web sites have in the recent past engaged in cooperative behaviors to simultaneously ban popular political commentators from their services within hours of each other, effectively locking out these individuals from any major alternative social media services. Basically, the accusation is that while not a monopoly, the bulk of the market share of social media worked together in a coordinated anti-competitive effort, which is the legal definition of a Trust in economics, which was such a big work around to the "No Monopolies" act, that it was made illegal in the same exact law... and actually named in the law's title (The Sherman Anti-Trust act) and the action of breaking up monopolies is called Trust-Busting.

The other alternative is to just not get involved in Social Media. These people do exist in the United States... it's not all encompassing and because social media can be addictive, it's probably advisable if you don't need it... That said, there has been recent discussion that Facebook has started "Shadow Accounts" for non-users. If you never use Facebook but your best friend does, and he posts about how you two enjoyed a restaurant or a movie, Facebook will create a file about the non-user and append the data to the file... if you in the future sign up and friend your best friend... Facebook will try and find the Shadow Account of best fit and append that to you. This is all to market advertisements for you, which is how they make the money (if a company provides you a service for free, you're not the customer, you're the product. McDonald's sells burgers. But if you get all your food, and care, and comfort for free from McDonald's, you're not the customer, you're the cow). And yeah, it can be scary in that regard (though for me, Facebook has gotten some critical details about myself hilariously (and offensively) wrong.).

Back To Free Speech

The reason this all matters is because the Road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Sometimes, popular and well like ideas do have downsides that are valid. Anti-Firework people could point out that they're Veterans with PTSD and the noise of the Fireworks will trigger that condition. They aren't unpatriotic, they made painful sacrifices defending the very ideas those Fireworks represent (or more neutrally, avoiding the Fireworks at Disney Theme parks because they know that all the popular rides are empty of riders during the display). And Nickleback fans might not be tone death mental basket cases... they could just be from the same country Nickleback comes from and want to support their fellow country men (Or they like a select few songs, but don't care for the rest... like they do with every other band they encounter and they think Nickleback is unduly maligned.).

There's a famous magic trick by Penn and Teller where they burn the United States Flag, not in protest of the nation it represents (as the act often symbolizes), but in moving tribute of said nation. George Carlin's famous "7 Dirty Words You Can't Say on TV" mocks censorship by being so bold as to name the seven words out loud and then pointing out that the ration of words you can use vs. the ones you can't is 399,993 to 7. He would later deconstruct the list by making fun of the pronunciations of the words, their appropriateness on the list 30 years after the initial bit was told, and the fact that the sixth word was only wrong because it also included the fourth word but he refused to remove it because the list was now so iconic, it would break the flow of the list and make it too short. There's only one use of any of the seven words in a non-meta context in the entire bit.

  • "And yeah, it can be scary in that regard (though for me, Facebook has gotten some critical details about myself hilariously (and offensively) wrong.)" - I find that scary in its own right. – Ruther Rendommeleigh Jul 16 at 12:14
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Facebook is not a government organization. It is a private company. As such, the first amendment does not restrict its right to free speech, it protects it. As a private company, they can decide what speech is and is not allowed on their platform.

If the government would try to restrict the way Facebook moderates and distributes their content, then it would be infringing on the freedom of speech rights of Facebook Inc and its employees.

People can choose from which sources they want to receive their news. If they prefer to receive their news from a biased source like Facebook, that's their free decision. There are plenty of ways to get informed in todays world.

Should the US constitution be changed or reinterpreted in a way that Facebook can be regulated? Or should the US government consider Facebook a critical infrastructure, nationalize it and put it under government control? And who could be trusted to regulate Facebook in a way which doesn't introduce a different bias? And what does "politically neutral" mean anyway? Can you actually run an internet platform without one side accusing you of censoring certain kinds of speech too much and the other accusing you of censoring the same kind of speech too little*? That's a question of personal opinion.

*my personal experience from being a moderator on this website: no, you can't

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    I understand you, but question is about a monopolising of social activity, not about media(I mention it in a question), which is dangerous, I think. Regardless of the fact, to what side it is monopolized. – user2501323 Feb 26 at 14:53
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    @user2501323 It seems like you want to start a discussion and not receive a definite answer to a factual question. Please note that Politics Stack Exchange is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum. If you want to discuss the future of new media, then you might want to pose this question on a more discussion-oriented website. – Philipp Feb 26 at 14:55
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    @user2501323: They don't really have a monopoly on social activity. At best it's a monopoly on online social activity, and even then the percentage of American who use it is closer to 60-70% than the 100% you claim, and they likely use several different social media services(Twitter, Instagram, etc.). Also, I've gotten along fine my whole life without ever making a Facebook account, so it's not like we're talking about an essential service. – Giter Feb 26 at 14:57
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    I'm not sure in what way you are using the term monopoly. You are not required to use Facebook and can get along fine without it. – RWW Feb 26 at 14:58
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    @Giter: I've never done Facebook, either. Nor am I an Instagram user, or a Twit. Indeed, I'd say ~90% of my exposure to Twitter is second-hand reporting on the Twit-In-Chief. – jamesqf Feb 26 at 17:15
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Two main reasons:

  1. Because realisation that "censorship" isn't limited to governments is not widely accepted.
  2. Because corporations are people.

Firstly, Facebook, being private company, is not affiliated with any government, as such any rules regarding censorship do not apply to them, despite Facebook's larger reach and impact than that of any governmental agency ever in existence. Therefore in liberal/neoliberal framework, because it's not related to government and as long as it's not breaking laws, it's not infringing on anyone's freedom.

Secondly, corporations are Legal Persons, and as such, despite very clearly not being people, are allowed the same protections, even if in practice this gives them carte blanche to oppress. In this particular case, it's freedom of speech - Facebook's right to freedom of speech is as important as yours (assuming you live in US), which considering disparity in available resources and market positions, means their right is in practice more important than yours.

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    Edited a question a bit, you may misunderstood question. This not mostyly about corporation rights - it about monopoly corporation rights, in fact. Which is, if overused, a potentially dangerous. – user2501323 Feb 26 at 14:17
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    @user2501323 Oh, no, Facebok is not oppressing you, you see. They simply exercise their freedom to not to be oppressed by you. Hence they refuse to host and spread your views if they don't like them. You are the bad guy here. You are free to go somewhere else. Nowhere else to go? Not their problem. I'm being sarcastic, but that's gist of the line of reasoning which allows them unprecedented levels of "soft" control and social engineering. – M i ech Feb 26 at 14:19
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    Understand you. It looks logical.) But looks like "We can reject anyone" badge on the only town shop/gas station. Maybe, it's logical, but it is cruel to those, who are "anyone". Are such badges legal, also? – user2501323 Feb 26 at 14:23
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    @user2501323 And that's where it gets complicated. Should store be able to refuse service to someone who's being rowdy and aggressive? I think they should (and I do believe they can in entirety of the first world). Should it be able to refuse service to someone because of gender, nationality, race, sexual orientation, religion or indeed political views (assuming aforementioned political views are not breaking law)? Clearly not. But how do you prove that you were refused because you are black/white/gay/pastafarian and not for officially claimed legitimate reason like equipment failure? – M i ech Feb 26 at 14:43
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    @user2501323 "So, corporation, which oppress freedom of social activities (and is, in fact, a monopolist in US) don't break US constitution?": that is correct. The US constitution does not create an obligation for nongovernmental entities to protect the freedom of speech of individuals. It does not even create an obligation for the government to guarantee that an individual's speech will be free from restriction by other individuals. It only prevents the government from restricting freedom of speech. – phoog Feb 28 at 8:25

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